“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I can’t stop crying.
I finally watched the video of Eric Garner’s arrest and death and I can’t stop crying. Just like I had resisted reading about Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, I had resisted watching that video. I knew about it, I had read about it, but watching this man’s last moments was too much for me to handle. But we all must face the facts, no matter how unpleasant or upsetting. We owe Mr. Garner that much.
Yesterday, the grand jury refused to indict the NYPD officer who tried to subdue Eric Garner (unarmed) in an illegal choke-hold, then pushing his face into the sidewalk, all the while him repeating, “I can’t breathe.” He died while in custody moments later. Just two weeks ago, a grand jury in Ferguson, MO, refused to indict a police officer for shooting an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Just a few days ago, manslaughter charges were dropped against a police officer who mistakenly shot and killed a 7-year-old girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was sleeping on the couch. They were searching for a murder suspect. The officer now faces, at most, a misdemeanor charge for “accidental firing of a weapon resulting in death.”
Last month, a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a park. We now know that the same police officer was recommended to be released from duty back in 2012 from a different town before he resigned and then was hired by the city of Cleveland.
All of these victims – these human beings – were of Black descent. All of the police officers are of White descent. These are just a few examples of excessive police brutality, but this is not new news. We are just all aware of it now because of social media and technology. But this has been going on for years.
I have resisted posting about this because I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. The tensions are palpably high in this country. But I can’t be quiet about it anymore. I’ve been feeling such sadness about these events in the past few weeks, but now I’m angry.
This is about race. These police officers acted illegally and their crimes need to be punished.
I am not against police officers in general. I do not think the anarchist anger is helpful in this situation. But we need to do something about this. We need a system overhaul. We need accountability and we need to address the blatant racism that exists in our country.
I am not Black. But I see and acknowledge the centuries of systemic oppression and discrimination that this country was built on. I’m not sure which is worse, those supporting the officers and blaming the victims, those who are just out-rightly racist and believe the victims deserved their untimely deaths, or those (who are usually very young) saying they agree this is wrong, but they don’t see what it has to do with race.
The fact is, if you are not a Black American, then the most you can do is sympathize with the Black American experience while admitting that you do NOT know what it’s like. Because you don’t. And neither do I. But I see what my friends and fellow citizens go through everyday and it pains me. It goes way, way back – deep into the roots of this country. Do not discount 500 years of forced enslavement and treatment of an entire group of people as property. It was not that long ago. We still have a long way to go. Schools and public property were desegregated just about 40 years ago. My father was a teenager then.
I could go into the extensive sociological history of racism towards Black people in this country but to keep things brief and approachable, let’s just do an experiment.
I am not Black. But I am a woman of color. I live in New York City. Say, for example, I was in the exact position that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or Aiyana Stanley-Jones were in. I am willing to bet you a lot of money that I would have not been shot and killed in any of these situations. Even if I had acted exactly as they each had.
The universal frustration of the Black Man is evident in Eric Garner’s video. His speech before his death broke my heart. He said, “I’m not doing anything, I’m not selling nothing. You guys are always giving me trouble and I’m tired of it. It ends today.” And he’s right – the racial profiling of Black men (and women) as criminals and thugs is deeply ingrained. I see it everyday in New York City, as I walk by, unsuspected and not bothered – just an innocent-looking Asian female. I know we’d like to believe that he must have done something wrong to deserve the special attention. But in truth, what he did wrong was be born Black. Just like the victim-blaming that happens during a rape and sexual assault case, we are all terrified to believe that something terrible can happen to us for absolutely no reason or fault of our own. That loss of control is paralyzing, but it is a daily fear for many. And yes, it can happen to you. This may be a race issue, but it involves all of us.
It doesn’t matter what any of these victims were doing when the shooting occurred, they were all unarmed. The police officers only feared for their lives because of their fear of Black people. The Fear took over, they shot off their guns, and innocent people died. And when I say innocent, I don’t care if the toy gun didn’t have a red tip or if Michael supposedly bullied a store clerk. That does not justify their deaths. I mean that none of them had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death by a judge and jury of their peers. None of them threatened the lives of those officers. Their deaths were unjust, illegal, and unconstitutional.
This is scary, people. We should be scared – and not because of possibly damage property during protests. We should be scared for the system, for our government, for our police, and what that means to us as citizens. What does that mean for our children?
We are upset, we are angry, we are sad, we are fed up. Not just because these people died. But because the law is letting policemen shoot and kill whomever they please without repercussions. There are other ways to detain a suspect that should not involve shooting to kill. Those who lecture about how to “just behave and avoid getting in situations like this” are blind and in severe denial. Wake up, everyone. You may find yourself someday in an unfortunate situation with a police officer. And even though you may be a law-abiding citizen and unarmed, what these non-indictments are saying is that, he or she can still shoot and kill you if he feels like it. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Except be heard. So march. Protest. Peacefully – of course – I don’t believe that violence is the answer. But stand up. Speak out. Talk about this. That’s the least we can do for Eric, Michael, Tamir, and Aiyana. Where are you marching today?
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”